UK firm Dairy Crest, which last year sold off its French business in a bid to fund acquisitions in its home market, today (7 February) hinted it was struggling to find worthy targets.

Last summer, Dairy Crest offloaded French unit St Hubert for EUR430m (US$583.4m) and said it would use the cash to snap up assets in the UK.

However, the Country Life butter owner has not been able to find the right business in the UK to buy.

“Our aim in deploying the cash from the transaction is to make targeted acquisitions. We are determined that any acquisition must deliver strong returns for shareholders but, to date, we have not identified any such acquisition,” Dairy Crest said today. In the short term, the company plans to use the St Hubert cash to improve its balance sheet and help pay its pension fund.

The admission came as Dairy Crest reported slowing sales from its four key brands in the three months to the end of December, its third quarter. In the first nine months of the year, branded sales increased 5%.

However, Dairy Crest said it expects a “mid-single digit” increase in sales from the brands, which also include Cathedral City cheese, over the year.

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Panmure Gordon analyst Damian McNeela said he was “slightly disappointed” at Dairy Crest’s difficulty in finding acquisitions. He added the company’s sales were “below expectations”.

Dairy Crest shares were down 2.72% at 410.5p at 12:01 GMT this afternoon.